We spent our first day in the northern Berry Islands sleeping, mostly. But late in the day we rallied. Chris and Gabe inflated their pack rafts and we put the engine on the dinghy and trolled over to a limestone rock rising out of the sea bed about 50 yards off. As we pulled up we scared a 4-foot nurse shark and it scurried away. Greg found a bunch of under-size lobster along the escarpment. You shouldn’t take them if their tails are under three inches long, so we abstained. We tried looking along the shelf on the main island after that, but all we found was a large ray hiding in a sandy patch between swaths of sea grass.
Though lobsterless, as we returned to Lemonade that night, Greg turned to me and said, “I was made for this kind of life.”
The next day, after we’d fully recovered from our night crossing and were beginning to make plans to mosey on down the island chain, we took the dinghy into the harbor to do laundry and use the Wi-Fi.
We have several guidebooks on board – a hardback cruising guide to the Caribbean and the Bahamas from 1976 with a literary flair to the writing has provided interesting insights into the way things used to be; a 2003 Rough Guide is also now quite dated but offers interesting tips from a non-cruiser’s perspective; and a 2014 Dozier’s Waterway Guide which offers the most up-to-date info.
These notes are from the 1976 book:
“A fine, modern marina has been hacked out of the sand and limestone. The entrance from the east is through a man-made cut spanned by a man propelled swing bridge. We understand that it once saw service on the Intracoastal Waterway near Dania, Florida. A more secure spot in a hurricane would be hard to find; at all other times the setting is restful, gracious, and surrounded by the usual resort amenities, including an 18-hole golf course, a clubhouse high on a hill, and villas and condominiums galore. To get to this mecca of instant leisure and luxury…”
First off, the swing bridge is no more. And although Chris and Gabe thought they saw grandeur when they scouted it out in the dark, on our first night here, in the harsh light of day it’s obvious that time has taken its toll on “this mecca of instant leisure and luxury,” from the modern marina to the clubhouse. Though the dockmaster’s office is still standing, the bathrooms are kept clean and the Wi-Fi works well, most of the buildings along the docks look like they were done-in by hurricanes and then humans years ago.
When I first climbed up the ladder to the dock two young men were sitting in mock-Adirondack chairs in front of the harbormaster’s office, coolly observing us behind mirrored pilot’s glasses, with waterproof packs at their feet. One was tall, and nicely dressed in long pants with a blue pin-striped shirt rolled up to the elbows. The other wore khaki shorts and a button-down. For no obvious reason I immediately pegged them as gay. Greg and I immediately started to make conversation with them and quickly learned that their reserve may have been attributable to the fact that they had just completed a crossing of over 140+ miles from Lake Worth.
Only minutes later Paul, the Canadian we’d met on our first night anchored in Bimini, came rolling down the dock like a bowling ball, and exploded into the conversation with all the pent-up energy of someone who’s been at sea for several days. He, too, had just arrived.
“Do you guys have a slip?” he asked.
We told him where we were anchored outside the harbor.
“You know we are supposed to get gusts up to 50 knots on Sunday?”
No, we did not. And we had planned to go around the island on Saturday and anchor in an exposed bay.
Yet again the wind halted our forward momentum. We arranged for a slip and the next day we brought the boat into the harbor. Chris and Gabe hiked the island while I worked and Greg investigated the weather and planned our course of action. That night the marina organized a dinner and all of the cruisers participated. The older retired couples mulled around one end of the tent, while a cluster of us in our 30s and 40s gathered at the corner closest to the bar.
The two guys we’d met on the dock joined us at our table. The tall one turned out to be Latvian, and said he’d been sailing all his life. The other, a Ducati mechanic from the Hudson Valley, had only recently gotten the bug. I asked him about his first long trip, and he told us about a delivery that went haywire when they lost their engine, and all power, and had no GPS nor charts to get them up to Long Island in the dark. I looked at him aghast.
“Yeah,” he nodded. “It was horrible. But at some point in the middle of it all, I realized I’d never felt so alive.”
“I know what you mean,” Chris said, and she told him about getting caught in the squall. “It was fun. You know, after we knew we’d live through it.”
Periodically throughout the trip it has struck me that we really threw Chris and Gabe in the deep end. It was at least a year after I learned to sail before I sailed an all-nighter. Or crossed the Gulf Stream – and that was in a 127-foot boat.
I can’t imagine many people who would spring back from the squall like they did, hang in there for almost two weeks waiting for the winds to change and then sail non-stop through the night without autopilot. You are either suited to the sailing life, like the mechanic, or you’re better off not tempting fate.
And it’s not just the adrenaline-charged moments that separate sailor from landlubber. As my mother responded to one of my early posts, “Let’s see how you feel after a month of living with four people in that floating sardine can!”
Is it tough living with four people in such a small space? Sure. The boat is twice as dirty, from tracked-in sand, and hair and crumbs, and we go through water twice as fast. But it is also twice as fun. We have spent most days fishing, hunting for lobsters, snorkeling and kayaking, and we laugh nonstop. Like Greg, I too was made for this life. And it is hard to imagine having chosen better people both to sail with and be marooned with, yet again.
Oh – and what do you do when you’re stranded on a Bahamian island? Make lots of yummy things to eat…